Cannabinoids refer to a group of 100+ compounds found in cannabis plants such as marijuana and hemp. The most commonly known among these cannabinoids are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). While CBD is best known for its many health benefits and rejuvenating properties and is predominantly found in hemp, THC is best known for its psychoactive effects (feeling of high), and it is most prevalent in marijuana plants.
That said, all cannabinoids, regardless of their exact effects, interact with the same part of the body – namely the endocannabinoid system (ECS). They do so via the cannabinoid receptors found throughout the central and peripheral nervous system, including the brain. Among the ECS’ many functions, we can include its role in regulating a variety of physiological and cognitive processes such as fertility, pregnancy, overall mood, appetite, pain-sensation, the immune system, and memory.
Cannabinoids, Brain Aging, and Neurodegenerative Disorders
While on the topic of memory, many of us know that its performance declines over time. What happens is that, with increasing age, the quantity of the cannabinoids receptors naturally formed in the brain reduces. And when the activity of the cannabinoid system starts to decline, the brain begins to age rapidly.
According to a study performed by a team of scientists at the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry at the University of Bonn in collaboration with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, cannabinoids may have an effect on slowing down brain aging and may help alleviate symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and more.
The study was conducted on mice since they already have a relatively short lifespan and will display pronounced cognitive deficits due to age even after twelve months. As such, the research team administered a small dose of THC to mice of different ages over four weeks. Afterward, they tested the learning and memory capacities of these mice, including orientation skills and recognition of other mice.
The ones that were given a placebo during the experiment displayed natural age-dependent learning and memory loss. But those that were given the real thing exhibited the same cognitive functions as the two-month-old control animals. “The treatment completely reversed the loss of performance in the old animals,” said Prof. Andreas Zimmer from the Institute of Molecular Psychiatry. “It looked as though the THC treatment turned back the molecular clock,” Zimmer went on to say.
Since there are plenty of cannabinoid products currently available on the market and permitted as medications or supplements for various conditions such as pain relief, the next step of the process is to conduct trials and determine if the reverse brain aging process is also possible in humans.
If such a treatment is tested and proven to be effective in humans, it could help improve conditions in people suffering from dementia and other neurological and degenerative brain disorders. Svenja Schulze, science minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, said this about the issue: “Although there is a long path from mice to humans, I feel extremely positive about the prospect that THC could be used to treat dementia, for instance.” As such, Andreas Zimmer and his team of researchers are now looking to start human trials.